The Viper and the File

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Caxton's translation (1484)[edit]

Of the serpent

The Auctor that is to wete Esope reherceth to vs suche a fable of two euyls / sayeng that a serpent entryd somtyme within the forge of a smythe / for to serche somme mete for her dyner / It happed / that she fond a fyle whiche she beganne to gnawe with her teethe / Thenne sayd the fyle to her / yf thow byte and gnawe me / yet shalt thow doo to me no hurte / but bytynge and gnawyng on me / thow shalt hurte thyn owne self / For by my strengthe alle the yron is planed by me / And therfore thow arte a foole to gnawe me /

For I telle the / that none euyll may hurte ne adommage another as euylle as he / Ne none wycked may hurte another wycked / ne also the hard ageynst the hard shalle not breke eche other / ne two enuyous men shal not both ryde vpon an asse / wherfor the myghty and stronge must loue hym whiche is as myghty and as stronge as hym self is

L'Estrange's translation (1692)[edit]


There was a Snake got into a Smith’s Shop, and fell to licking of a File: she saw the File bloody, and still the bloodier it was, the more eagerly she lick’d it; upon a foolish Fancy, that it was the File that bled, and that she herself had the better on’t. In the Conclusion, when she could lick no longer, she fell to biting; but finding at last she could do no more good upon’t with her Teeth than her Tongue, she fairly left it.

THE MORAL. ‘Tis a Madness to stand biting and snapping at any Thing to no manner of Purpose, more than the gratifying of an impotent Rage, in the fancy of hurting another, when in Truth, we only wound our selves.

Townsend's translation (1887)[edit]

The Viper and the File

A Lion, entering the workshop of a smith, sought from the tools the means of satisfying his hunger. He more particularly addressed himself to a File, and asked of him the favor of a meal. The File replied, "You must indeed be a simple-minded fellow if you expect to get anything from me, who am accustomed to take from everyone, and never to give anything in return."

Jacobs' translation (1894)[edit]

The Serpent and the File

A Serpent in the course of its wanderings came into an armourer's shop. As he glided over the floor he felt his skin pricked by a file lying there. In a rage he turned round upon it and tried to dart his fangs into it; but he could do no harm to heavy iron and had soon to give over his wrath.

It is useless attacking the insensible.